How to steer clear of road woes

Between 50 and 80 per cent of motor-vehicle collisions involve driver distraction, based on a number of U.S. studies. Assuming this also holds true in Canada, driver negligence or inattention could contribute to the loss of 1,300 to 2,000 lives on our roads every year.

Distractions come in all forms and they are both inside and outside a vehicle.

One motor-vehicle accident, or even a roadside breakdown, is often the catalyst for a secondary accident as the attention of a passing driver — drawn by morbid curiosity — is hijacked for a few seconds.

The last long weekend of summer is upon us and it will be a busy time on our highways.

It’s followed by a return to the school year, which is also a busy period on urban roads. The importance of extra driver vigilance can not be stressed enough!

Inside our cars, there’s been an alarming growth in the number of driver distractions, such as audio systems and input devices, navigation systems, climate-control systems and beverage holders.

Other passengers can also divert a driver’s attention and then there’s the biggest attention grabber of them all — the cellular phone.

Next week in this space, cellular- phone use, new regulatory measures used to curtail use while driving and new technology solutions, will take centre stage.

This week, I’d like to focus on some of the other and varied causes of driver inattention and what we can do to minimize them.

New drivers are even more vulnerable to distraction, as driving can be a complicated task that requires their full attention. Both hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road ahead is a simple and basic good-driving rule that we need to get back to obeying.

Even at a speed of just 50 kilometres per hour, a car will travel 14 metres in one second.

That few seconds it takes to change a CD or take a sip of coffee could be long enough to miss a car pulling out from a side road or miss a traffic light change. That moment of inattention could change the rest of your life, or the lives of others.

The Canadian Automobile Association offers 12 recommendations to avoid distractions while driving:

1. Turn off your cellphone.

2. Eat before you get in the car. Taking time to eat breakfast or a snack before you leave means you can concentrate on the road — and keep both hands on the wheel.

3. Pre-program radio stations and/or fill your CD changer. Radio/CD buttons are small and can easily be missed if you’re trying to do two things at once.

4. Prepare your children for the trip. When you buckle them in, make sure kids have easy access to any toys or snacks. If your young passengers need attention pull over at a safe place and tend to their needs.

5. Finish your personal grooming before you leave home. Applying lipstick or tying a tie while driving is a distraction — and a good way to injure yourself.

6. Check your mood. If you’re angry, frustrated or very upset, wait until you’ve calmed down before you climb behind the wheel.

7. Keep the conversation light and to a minimum. If you’re driving with passengers, let them know their safety is your first priority, not your conversation.

8. Don’t smoke in the car. If you need a cigarette, pull over to a safe spot to have a puff. Hot ash on your lap can be a dangerous distraction — in more ways than one.

9. Secure loose items on your dash, rear view mirror or vacant seats. Sharp turns or abrupt stops will cause these things to fly — creating a (noisy) distraction.

10. Don’t rubberneck. If you pass an accident on the side of the road, or a new billboard, try to keep your eyes on the road! Drivers around you may be distracted too.

11. Review maps and directions before leaving. Even better, ask a passenger to be your navigator.

12. Remove visual obstructions. Get rid of stuff that obstructs a clear view of your mirrors and windows, such as air fresheners dangling on the rearview mirror, or stickers on your back window.

Travelling with kids in the car also requires some extra planning and rules to avoid distractions. To get more information on distracted driving check out

Bob McHugh is a freelance automotive journalist, writing on behalf of the B.C. Automobile Association.

Photograph by: Getty Images